When we think about working in an office, the last thing that comes to mind is self-care.
Let’s be honest, gray cubicles and harsh fluorescent lighting don’t exactly make us think “relaxation” and “sanctuary.”
But why shouldn’t we associate the office with self-care? After all, we spend so many of our waking hours in the office, and we often spend more time with our coworkers than with our own families. In this age of hustle culture and working 24/7, we need to prioritize our professional self-care more than ever.
Self-care shouldn't just be reserved for weekends or spa days or celebrations. Yes, self-care can make you feel special, but we shouldn’t need a special reason to practice it.
In fact, if we made self-care a regular part of our routine, we might actually feel better and less reactive every day. That’s why it’s so vital that we incorporate elements of self-care into every area of our lives, including our professional lives.
By doing something as simple as taking an actual lunch break or decluttering your workspace, you can find yourself feeling less emotional and reactive to work situations. When you nourish yourself with healthy meals and revive your spirit with healthy conversations with coworkers, you’ll feel more grounded when you are met with challenges at the office.
We’ve put together some helpful strategies and techniques you can use to weave in more professional self-care into your work day. We even have a free Professional Self-Care worksheet to help you focus on a different self-care aspect each week.
Professional self care and mindfulness
Sometimes, one work email can send our entire day into a spiral.
Maybe you’ve just been told to get on the next available flight to attend a business conference. Or you have to start a new design from scratch. Or you received a crippling critique on a project you worked really hard on. When these emails or any other work stresses occur, our fight or flight responses kick in. We either want to cry or scream or fight someone -- or all of the above.
While we can blame our prehistoric ancestors for endowing us with these intense, heightened reactions, we still need to find ways to cope. After all, we’re in an office, and we have to behave professionally (even if that’s the last thing we want to do at the time!).
So the next time you get a gut-punching email, take a deep breath and try to be mindful. Instead of letting your mind dart in a million directions, pause. Close your eyes and start counting your breath. Inhale. Exhale. Even something as simple as counting to ten can make a huge difference in re-stabilizing you.
Here are other ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your day:
- Get up from your desk every hour and walk around. After staring at a screen for so long, your eyes, body, and mind will benefit from a break.
- Take a 10-20 minute walk during the middle of the work day.
- Use your lunch break to eat lunch. Try to avoid looking at any screens or catching up on paperwork during this time. Instead, focus on the meal itself and doing something enjoyable like daydreaming, reading, or listening to a podcast.
- If you’re nervous about an important meeting or a big presentation that’s coming up, try to find time to journal about it. List the reasons that you’re feeling nervous or anxious and see if you can identify action steps to relieve it. Getting it out on paper releases the pressure in your mind.
Take care of your environment
Yes, self-care means tending to your emotional, spiritual, and mental wellbeing, but it also means nurturing your space and environment as well.
Our spaces are often a reflection of our inner lives. When we feel chaotic and out of sorts, we tend to let our physical spaces run amok as well. Whether it’s piles of paperwork or junk drawers that are filled to the brim or file cabinets that are in disarray, we can all agree that office clutter can be its own source of stress.
That’s why cleaning and organizing our spaces can have such a big emotional and physical impact. Not only does a tidy, organized space feel pleasing to the eye, but it makes us work better, because we actually feel comfortable working there.
We spend so much time in our work space, we deserve to spruce it up and take care of our surroundings. Here are some of the ways that you can take care of your work space.
Ergonomic upgrades: If you sit at a desk all day, you need to make your work station comfortable for your physical health. Do you need a wrist or elbow pad to ease tension? What about a screen filter to make it easier on your eyes? Would a standing desk or stability ball be easier on your back? Many offices even cover the costs of ergonomic desks and accessories so check in with HR to see what you’re eligible for.
Office supplies: When’s the last time you gave your office supplies a refresh? When it comes to treating ourselves to nice things, office supplies usually aren’t at the forefront of our mind. Yet it’s a simple but cost effective way to treat yourself. Not only are you guaranteed to use these tools and supplies everyday, but you’ll feel so much more special when you use them. So treat yourself to a set of beautiful notebooks. Or colorful pens and washi tape to help you organize your file folders while brightening your day. Or a cheerful new stapler or a pretty coffee mug.
Cleaning and organizing: We all know that a clean and organized space is more conducive to work. When you see a pile of paperwork sitting on top of your desk, you don’t feel as excited to get on top of your tasks. Plus, the sight of the clutter itself might increase your stress levels. That’s why tending to your work space is an essential part of professional self care.
The act of cleaning and organizing your office space can give you a big mental boost. See if you can devote 10-15 minutes a day to clearing out your drawers and cabinets for a week. Toss out old pens or shred/recycle documents you no longer need. Finally organize those folders and store documents in a pretty binder. You will feel like a huge weight has been lifted and your space will feel even more inviting.
Celebrate your win
When we’re in the office, we’re either reflecting on past benchmarks or planning ahead for future wins. We often don’t take the time to slow down and notice what is going well right now, where our small daily efforts are paying off.
Instead of crossing off one task and moving onto the next one, here’s how to celebrate your meaningful wins:
- At the end of the work day, reflect on your small victories and write them down in your planner.
- At the end of the work week, record any progress you made on a project or in your career development.
- At the end of the month, reflect on your daily and weekly wins from the past month. Celebrate by treating yourself to a delicious meal or buy a work outfit that will make you feel confident at your next meeting. It doesn’t have to be a big splurge, it can even be something as small as treating yourself to a latte. Whatever helps you mark the occasion.
Whether you’re a manager or entry level employee, find ways to celebrate your team’s milestones and wins. Maybe it means a weekly email highlighting everyone’s contributions from the week or a shoutout in the team meeting for someone who really came through for you.
According to this Harvard Business Review article: “This kind of debrief can help you and your team stay connected to passions, highest contributions, and actions that actually add value.”
So go ahead and celebrate your team’s wins, big and small.
Professional self care means boundaries
With so many of us working from home, the boundaries between our work and personal lives are even more blurred. Make it a rule not to open work emails during lunch or after a certain hour. If you need to do some deep work, put your phone on airplane mode or put an away status on your messenger to avoid interruptions. Turn off your computer at 7pm and transition into personal mode by changing out of your work clothes or going for a long, de-stressing walk.
Having work boundaries also means allowing yourself to take vacation days and not feel guilty about it. When you take your days off, confirm with everyone on your team that you will be gone set up an out-of-office message so you don't have to worry about who might be waiting for a reply from you.
You don’t have to address all of these self-care areas all at once. See which exercises resonate with you and try them out. You can even try cleaning and organizing your space for one week and then give mindfulness exercises a try on the following week. You can incorporate these exercises little by little, and experience the immense benefits of self care over time.
The most important thing is that you begin to pay attention to how you can change your work life for the better, even in small ways. When you prioritize your self-care at work, every work day gets a little bit easier.